Saturday, March 31, 2007

The cost for having religous preference

During our term in the U.S., my wife and I once had lunch in the student cafeteria of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass – some 40 minutes from our place in Cambridge. It was an 'all-you-can-eat' type of café; you can take everything for a flat charge.

Being a Jewish institution, the café served kosher meals. According to the Jewish rule, the kosher and non-kosher food must not be processed together. Not only that, the cutleries must also be separately treated. So they divide the café into the kosher and non-kosher sections. The cutleries are provided in two different colors. I forget what they are, but I think blue for the non-kosher, and green for the kosher section. Although no separator for the two sections, you can not buy your meals from one section and eat it in the other one. Same thing applies for the cutleries. And after you finish, you must bring your cutleries to different return trays. (Maybe the green ones will go to heaven, and the blue go to hell?)

As the kosher food is the closest one to halal food, and I was in the mood for being a good Muslim at that day, I chose the kosher ones. Then, I found out that the kosher food costs about a dollar more than the non-kosher one. It was my fault, anyhow, as I did not read the price list before.

I started to wonder, why should it cost more? I guess because processing kosher food adds to your production cost. You need to manually slaughter the animal, means additional procedures to process the food. You may also have to pay to have the food examined by some kind of religious council, another extra cost.

More interestingly, what makes someone – anyone – pay more for kosher-but-not-necessarily-more-delicious meals? The extra dollar may serves as the 'premium' for... well, being religious. Perhaps this is similar to insurance premium. You are willing to pay more to get some degree of certainty to your expected wealth. For the believers, the extra dollar, maybe, is your ‘post-life’ insurance.

Another way to see this is ‘consumer discrimination.’ Consider the term discrimination in its generic meaning: ‘being selective over a product that is made only by certain people or using certain procedure.’ Milton Friedman and Gary Becker once said that if you are being discriminative, the market will punish you by limiting your choice, so you’ll have to pay more. However, as long as:

  1. you are willing to take that price
  2. nobody forces you to take that price
  3. you don’t force anybody to take that same price
  4. you don’t force anybody to pay that price for you
  5. you don’t prohibit other people to take other choices (with different price)
  6. the price you pay is the result of voluntary actions (and exchanges)

then it does not make any problems. Violation to any of the above conditions is coercion, hence unjustifiable (see this posting).

Note that the price for your religious preference does not need to be explicit. Sometimes the price is your ‘search cost’ (you must travel a bit far to find halal meat). Sometimes it is has no monetary value, but in terms of depletion of your social capital (love this term!). Think about your being exclusive, having to reject dinner invitation, or having to refrain from enjoying delicious meal in a party.

As for myself, actually I kinda regretted my decision to go to that kosher section. I don’t think that extra dollar guaranteed me a place in heaven. But after all, nobody forced me to do that anyway…

Side story. By the way, my wife was a bit annoyed by having to pay more. As a non-Muslim, she did not have to bother eating kosher or halal food anyway. In other words, she experienced a negative externality from my religious preference-of-the-day. However, we can settle this issue internally and domestically. Like Aco said, the intervention from government is not needed, nor from anyone or anything.


  1. "I was in the mood for being a good Muslim at that day,.." hmmm... moody religious eh.

    Don't mix up with the insurance context, because the $ benefits your family received upon your disability/death can still be used to prolong your financial contribution to your religion, even you're away and not productive. :)

  2. hahahahaha keren-keren.
    pay extra couldn't guarantee go to heaven and pay less couldn't guarantee go to heaven too.

  3. There are other ways to affect agent behaviour without coercing them such as taxation, subsidy and mechanism design with incentive compability constraint.

    Your case is rather different since you only discover the price difference afterward (and unable to back out after you know it?) .

  4. I go to Brandeis, I always bring my own lunch or buy Panini sandwhiches at the Italian deli near my department:D

  5. I don't think this is a case of externalities though, since she's paying for the togetherness. Even if the price is the same, she's willing to forgo the yummy non-kosher food in exchange for your company. But in this case, she later finds out her willingness to pay for your company is actually lower than the price difference! Hahahaha. You should've been more entertaining! Of course, it could be the food, although I doubt this, since kosher foods can be really yummy at NYC delis.

  6. Sacrifice for something we belief is kind of dedication.
    But the question is: is it the way to going heaven?

  7. hahaha, i absolutely agree with Fantarara. Ijul has starting to count pennies like you and to be with you. man, next time write something about how stingyness can be contageus! :p

  8. "I don’t think that extra dollar guaranteed me a place in heaven"

    Certainly a good discussion to throw to the public in this topic alone!!